Teddy Fay finished his twenty laps in the terrace pool. He pulled himself out and sat on the deck, drinking in the morning sun.
His broken leg had nearly healed. Remarkable, considering the amount of stress he'd subjected it to before allowing it to be put in a cast. Or rather, put back in a cast. Extenuating circumstances had forced him to cut off the original cast in order to deal with a life-or-death situation. He'd been a good boy since, even followed his rehab regimen.
The fact that he liked swimming didn't hurt.
He got up, sat in a deck chair, and poured himself a cool glass of lemonade.
Teddy enjoyed the three-story split-level Hollywood house on Mullholland Drive that he'd purchased in the name of Billy Barnett. Teddy had three identities. That is . . . three current identities. In the course of his career, he had played many roles, occasionally more than one at a time, but they were usually temporary. As Billy Barnett, he had risen through the ranks from production assistant to producer at Centurion Studios. As Mark Weldon, he was a stuntman who had evolved into a character actor who specialized in playing villains.
As Teddy Fay, he was not known at all.
His cell phone rang. Teddy scooped it up. "Hello?"
"This is Lance Cabot."
Teddy nearly dropped the phone. Lance Cabot was the head of the CIA. Teddy had worked for Lance once, before going rogue and killing people who deserved to die. Lance had organized a global manhunt for him, but Teddy was so elusive they soon elevated him to the top of the Most Wanted list. When even a presidential pardon failed to cool the Agency's ardor, Teddy changed his name and dropped out of sight. He'd been rumored dead. Most agents subscribed to the rumor.
Teddy said, "Why would the head of the CIA be calling a Hollywood film producer?"
"I'm not calling you in your producer capacity."
Teddy paused. "Go on."
"We have a problem in Paris."
"We have a mole. Which is ridiculous-there's nothing happening in Paris that would warrant an enemy power planting a mole at that branch. The Agency was tracking only one individual recently, a low-level Syrian agent named Hassan Hamui. Recently he suddenly dropped out of sight, as if he knew he was under surveillance: knew when, how, and by whom. That's why we think we have a mole."
"And you want someone to handle the situation? Well, I'm not the man you're looking for. I happen to know you went out of your way to try to kill him, so I'd hardly care to be that guy. But if you want me to apply my meager talents to the situation, perhaps we can work something out."
"You want money?"
"Hardly. I can't be bought because I have all I need. I'm not above doing a favor for a friend, but you hardly fit into that category."
"You're still alive, aren't you?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"If I wanted to, finding and killing you wouldn't be hard. After all, I made this phone call."
"Is that a threat?"
"Not at all. I'm pointing it out as a token of friendship, since such things seem to matter."
"What would I have to do?"
"Go undercover, assume a new identity. I know you've played everybody from a bag lady to a bank president, but this might be sort of a stretch."
"Oh? Who do I have to pretend to be?"
"A CIA operative."
"Thanks a heap."
"I need you to leave at once."
"Are you picking me up here?"
"Will you fly me from New York?"
"It shouldn't look like we brought you in. Our mole would go on high alert. It has to appear as if you're emerging from deep cover. Whoever you wish to be will suddenly appear in our records as if he'd been there all the time. You get to pick your own legend. Once you do, you might let me know who you are."
"You're saying no one's running me. There's no one in charge of this mission I can contact."
"Would you listen to them if there were?"
"What's my cover story?"
"It doesn't matter, just so you have one. We have a leak. We don't know how high or low it goes, but we can't be telling people who might be the leak that we're looking for the leak."
"I have to create my own cover, fly myself in, and make up my own assignment?"
"I thought you'd like that."
"Fuck you, too, Lance."
Abad ripped off his headset. This was the call he'd been waiting for. He was sure of it. Fahd Kassin would be pleased.
It was one thing to bug the phone of the most powerful man in the CIA. It was another to sit through the endless daily minutia that flowed through his office. Abad was excited as he jammed a memory stick into the computer and began the transfer.
Fahd Kassin was a bundle of nerves. The coup the Syrian strongman had been planning for months was on the horizon, and things were going wrong. How could it be? His agent had infiltrated the CIA station in Paris, and from all reports the Agency had no idea of his intentions. And yet, a spy was suspected. A mole, that was what they called it. They had no idea who it might be, but the fact they suspected anyone was cause for alarm.
Defensive measures were mandatory. Just for a couple more weeks. Just until he made himself the most powerful man in the world.
In the meantime, it was crucial that Syrian intelligence didn't become aware of his plan. Fahd Kassin's project was not officially sanctioned. It was not sanctioned at all.
There was a knock on the door.
A computer hacker entered. Fahd couldn't recall his name. He was one of the men assigned to monitor the phone and wiretaps.
"Yes?" Fahd said impatiently.
Even his tone could not dampen the hacker's excitement. "I got it! The call you wanted to be alerted to. The head of the CIA called a man in California. He told him there was a mole in the Paris office and asked him to take care of it."
"Who did he call?"
"A Mr. Billy Barnett."
"And who is 'Billy Barnett'?"
"A Hollywood producer."
Fahd frowned. "A movie producer?"
"That's right. The producer tried to claim he wasn't the man he was looking for."
"You recorded the conversation?"
"Yes. It's on this memory stick."
"I can listen to it here?"
The hacker plugged the memory stick into Fahd's computer. He opened the file of Lance's calls, and played back the last one.
Fahd said, "What are you doing about the movie producer?"
"When the director called him, I tuned in to his cell phone frequency."
"You can do that?"
"Yes. Do you want me to explain how?"
"No. You're telling me I can listen in to his calls from my computer?"
"Show me how."
The hacker plugged in Billy Barnett's phone number, and opened the channel. "He's not on the phone at the moment, but if he makes a call, you can hear it by clicking this tab."
"Good job. This could be important."
"Yes. I will write it up in detail."
"No need. You have reported it to me. I will take it from here."
"Of course, sir. It is your project. I will merely report the facts."
"You don't need to do that."
"It's no trouble."
Fahd frowned. It was trouble from his point of view. He had his own agenda, and there were certain things he did not wish known, even by his own minions.
This was one of them.
Fahd nodded. "Who else did you show this to?"
"No one. I put it on the memory stick and came right in."
"Good job. Show me again how I access his phone."
The hacker hunched over the computer.
Fahd pushed a button on his desk.
A short, squat man in a drab brown suit glided in the door on little cat feet. He stepped up behind the hacker, deftly removed a handgun from a shoulder holster under his coat, and shot him in the head.
The hacker collapsed on the keyboard.
Fahd flinched. He was afraid the man might hit the wrong key and close the program. But the hacker slid off the keyboard and slumped to the ground.
"I trust you'll deal with the body," Fahd said to Aziz.
Aziz didn't answer. He never spoke. Impassive as ever, he picked up the body of the hacker, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him out.
Fahd Kassin sat at the computer and looked at the screen the hacker had opened for him.
Fahd shook his head. "Billy Barnett."
Teddy Fay drove onto the back lot of Centurion Studios. The guard at the gate waved him in. Teddy was a well-known figure on the movie set. As producer Billy Barnett, he was a man of some importance. He even had his own parking space, though he still felt funny using it.
Teddy let himself in through the soundstage. Nothing was filming that day, and it was faster than walking around to the main entrance. Teddy made his way down the corridor to the production offices.
Peter Barrington was in his. The young director was in the earliest stages of preproduction for his next feature. The film hadn't even been cast yet.
Rita, his assistant, buzzed him over the intercom. "Billy Barnett's here."
"Send him in."
Billy found Peter at his desk huddled over a few pages of script.
"Working on a rewrite?" Teddy said.
Peter looked up and grinned. "Hi, Billy. The changes aren't for me. We're auditioning Liz Hampton for a role. She's a little long in the tooth for it, as written."
"You'd rewrite the part for her?"
"I would if we got her. It wouldn't hurt the story any, and she's one of those actresses who's box-office gold for good reason. People like to see her name in the credits because they know it means a good performance."
"Yeah. I notice there's no part for character actor Mark Weldon in the movie."
"There really isn't," Peter said. "I was hoping you'd be content with producing this one."
"I had another idea. I don't think you're getting all the credit you deserve. I would think 'produced, written, and directed by' would go a long way toward establishing you as an auteur."
Peter grinned. "Yeah, right. And maybe I'll do hair and makeup, too. Trust me, writing and directing is enough. So can I count on you?"
Teddy grimaced. "The thing is, I kind of have to do a favor."
"For a friend?"
"Not exactly. But it needs to be done. Can I have some time off?"
"You know you can."
"I don't want to presume."
"Billy. After everything you've done for me and this studio, you can do anything you want."
"Well, I might like to try my hand at music director."
"How about caterer?"
Peter grinned. "Go on. Get out of here."
Stone Barrington was having a drink in his office with Dino Bacchetti. As one might expect in a conversation between one of New York City's top attorneys and the New York City police commissioner, weighty matters were being discussed. At the moment, the bone of contention was where to have dinner.
In the past, it was always Elaine's. Since it closed, the choice was often Patroon, but tonight Dino was lobbying for Peter Luger, the famed Brooklyn steakhouse.
"I don't think so," Stone said.
"What do you have against Peter Luger?" Dino wanted to know.
"I have nothing against Peter Luger. It's too late to get a reservation."
"I'm the New York City police commissioner. Do you really think I can't get a reservation?"
"Wouldn't that be abuse of power?"
"Absolutely. It's the only reason I took the job."
"Aw, come on, Dino. Think of the people who will be canceled to make room."
"No one will be canceled. Someone will get crowded closer to the kitchen."
The phone rang. Stone scooped it up. "Hello?"
"Billy!" Stone said. Then to Dino, "Hey, Dino, it's Billy Barnett."
"Invite him to dinner," Dino said.
"Dino and I were just planning dinner."
"I'm in L.A."
"That makes it harder."
"Where are you going to go?"
"We were just talking about it. Dino's pushing Peter Luger."
"Wish I were there. I love their steak. Why are you arguing?"
"We don't have a reservation."
"And Dino thinks they'll serve him anyway?"
"Ever since they made him commissioner he's got a swelled head."
"Hey, I'm right here," Dino protested.
"So why did you call?" Stone said.
"Actually, I was calling about dinner," Teddy said. "I can't make it tonight, but how about tomorrow?"
"That would be great. Where do you want to eat?"
Fahd Kassin, who had been monitoring Billy Barnett's calls, honed in on the word Paris. It put him on high alert, and he listened to the rest of the conversation with eager anticipation.
He was disappointed. Billy Barnett failed to elaborate on the comment, saying merely that he would see Stone tomorrow.
Fahd threw down the headphones in disgust. Why couldn't the man have been more explicit? Instead, he'd hardly been any help at all. He'd referred to the man he called as "Stone," probably a nickname, and they referred to a third man as the commissioner, though no one said commissioner of what. He also had an unlikely name, though Fahd couldn't recall it, he'd have to listen to the recording again. Fahd didn't want to do that, he wanted a lackey to do it for him. Only he'd had that lackey shot.
All right. Billy Barnett was in Los Angeles, but the number he'd called was in a different area code: 212. He could look that up. More grunt work.
Fahd summoned one of the techies from the other room. The man came in rather hesitantly. The last techie summoned from that room had never returned.
"What's your name?"
Fahd handed him a piece of paper. "Trace this phone number, Joram. I want to know who owns it, and where he lives."
As the techie scurried out, Fahd heard a ringtone sound coming from the headphones, indicating one of the lines he was tracking was making a call. He looked at the computer screen. It was Billy Barnett again. Fahd grabbed the headphones and jammed them on.
Fahd hoped he was calling his party back, but this time it was an eight hundred number. It rang twice before it was picked up.
"Thank you for calling American Airlines. If you are checking on a reservation, press one. If you are changing a reservation, press two. If you are making a new reservation, press three."